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Technology Experts in Schools: Teacher Leaders or Technicians?

Are you a teacher who leads others in using technology? Or, are you a technology specialist in your school?

As a technology guru, do you spend your day leading instruction or fixing technology?

The following five steps on being a teacher leader in technology, rather than being a technology technician, are based on my article "The Technology Specialist's Dilemma: Computer Repair or Instructional Leader?"

As technology becomes more embedded in the daily operation and instruction in schools and classrooms, the role of the technology resource teacher or specialist has evolved to meet these new demands.

Whereas such roles were previously limited to computer maintenance and the occasional skill- building "how to" lesson, today's technology specialist is often faced with balancing a variety of maintenance, instructional, staff development, and leader- ship challenges.

Many districts created broad "job responsibilities" that describe the dual technology and instructional role in order to define the evolving nature of the position, but often the actual implementation of that role varies from school to school and from individual to individual.

These steps help maximize the instructional roles of technology.

Step 1: Know your instructional strengths.

Between the role of classroom teacher and the role of administrator exists the ambiguous role of the instructional specialist that is neither classroom teacher nor administrator.

Classroom experience enables the technology specialist to understand instruction, but classroom experience alone does not always prepare one for influencing and guiding adult practices. Teacher leadership experiences at the department, grade, or school level add an essential level of credibility for working with teachers. Additional experiences such as mentoring, curriculum development, and participation in countywide leadership opportunities are also important.

An established teacher or teacher leader who becomes that technology expert will easily define that role with administration and teachers as an instructional and staff development role, rather than being only the repair person.

Step 2: Collaborate with administration.

Administrative support is essential for effective instructional leadership.

To facilitate this process, technology specialists must have the expertise and skills to communicate how technology issues affect the administrative and instructional functions of the school and to make recommendations on how to implement policies and support efforts.

The final decision is always up to administrators, but technology specialists must articulate the possible options, benefits, and concerns.

The technology specialist must establish a productive relationship with administrators and meet weekly to keep them informed of all ongoing and upcoming issues and projects.

Step 3: Establish procedures and prioritize needs.

Many schools now have a variety of desktop computer labs, mobile laptop carts, interactive whiteboards, classroom response systems, digital cameras, digital video cameras, LCD projects; the list goes on and on.

Murphy's Law dictates that the technology will inevitably break or not work as planned.

Teachers must know the proper procedures to follow to request assistance.

The technology specialist must organize what gets addressed first based on specific criteria - most often what impacts immediate student instruction or ongoing school wide priorities, rather than individual teacher demands or personal expectations.

Having previous classroom experience, the technology specialist understands the teacher perspective that the most important thing to teachers are student needs, but successfully maintaining a school environment necessitates a more global understanding of school priorities and needs.

The technology specialist navigates both teacher concerns and county policies to maximize technology for learning in the classroom.

Step 4: Understand your school community.

It is critical for the technology specialist to understand the needs of the students, teachers, and administrators. What affects student achievement at the school? What are the technology proficiencies of various teachers and how does each team view technology's role in their instruction? Which administrators are more technology savvy? The technology specialist must understand these issues in order to design appropriate and effective planning and collaboration efforts.

Personally designed surveys based on specific school needs given to staff at the beginning of the year can help the specialist categorize the training needs of staff. Ultimately, consistent face to face contact with teachers and students add tremendously to the specialist's understanding of the school culture.

Teachers display a wide variety of skills and preferences with technology. Many teachers benefit from sessions that introduce the technology, give sample applications, then allow for guided planning time to integrate the technology into their classroom. These teachers may require follow-up support.

Then there are always a few teachers who may require significant assistance learning and integrating the technology. They benefit from smaller group or one-on-one sessions with consistent follow up.

It is also important to know which teachers are interested in expanding their skills and are willing to participate in special projects. These are the pioneers who will take risks and be supportive when implementing innovative projects through grants and other creative solutions. They will also be the "teacher trainers" who help other teachers on their team or department learn technology skills.

Having a "cadre" of high flyers who are proficient with technology and willing to share their skills is an important resource for the technology specialist.

Step 5: When teaching teachers, skills training is good, but leadership development is best.

Teaching "how to" skills is a common theme for technology training, but only when instructional applications are made to the curriculum does actual development begin.

The role of the technology specialist is part staff development: helping teachers expand their instructional repertoire with technology. With these new skills come the opportunity for encouraging teacher leadership.

A technology specialist with experience in school and countywide leadership opportunities will be in the advantageous position of helping teachers realize their potential beyond the classroom.

Perhaps that teacher is ready to become a new teacher mentor in the county mentoring program or would write curriculum during the summer.

Perhaps the teacher is ready to pursue National Board Certification.

Technology can be one avenue for a teacher's professional growth. It's important to maximize it.

A technology specialist who views technology skill building as only the beginning of professional development can help teachers grow to be better teachers and leaders.

After all, technology is about teaching and learning. Successful technology gurus remember they are teachers and teacher leaders first, before being that "techie geek" that facilitates technology use in schools.

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